Spiritualistic and Parapsychological Interpretations in Jungian Dream Work

There is a long history of dreams being associated with parapsychological phenomena, especially such things as the revelation of divine truth or advice and prediction of the future.  Jungian psychology from Jung onward has always been fascinated with the apparent ability of dreams to "defy" the standard laws of time and space, and even many of Jung's own writings on dreams contain anecdotes of parapsychological predictions of the future.

Let me be clear about this from the get-go.  I have never witnessed any parapsychological phenomena in my own dreams or in the dreams of others.  If I had, I would do my best to present a fair analysis of these phenomena.  I am not a rationalist or materialist ideologue.  What I am is a generally skeptical phenomenologist whose basic approach to psychology is naturalistic.  I am not offended by the idea that supernatural and parapsychological phenomena are important to Jung or most Jungians, but my skepticism has only increased over the years.  After all, I have devoted myself to the study of the psyche (especially my psyche) and practiced dream work regularly and diligently most of my adult life.  I have experienced a number of things in my dream work and self-analysis that (as far as the literature goes) Jungians have not yet observed or paid attention to.  I cannot be classified as someone skeptical about dream work or the meaningfulness of dreams or the value of their analysis.

What I do know is that no parapsychological phenomenon has ever stood the test of adequate scientific scrutiny, and no uncanny and inexplicable prediction of the future has ever been scientifically verified.  I also know that the believing human brain has innumerable ways of "fooling itself".  Additionally, all Jungian writing about parapsychological dream phenomena (and there is a great deal of it) is of the anecdotal kind.  No Jungian I can recall has attempted to do anything remotely like a scientific study of paranormal phenomena or subjected even one single anecdote to testing or serious scrutiny.  No anecdotal reference to dream prognostication in Jungian literature is accompanied by a counterargument that tries to look more closely at the surrounding details that might explain why what seemed to be a prediction was actually an educated guess.  Unless you count Jung's essay on synchronicity . . . in which all of Jung's more scientific attempts to verify parapsychological phenomena either failed to support those phenomena or were later debunked by stricter scientific studies.

What's more, there is no Jungian literature I am aware of that concerns itself seriously with the well-studied capacity of the human mind to deceive itself, confabulate, or rationalize or with the strikingly limited accuracy of human perception.

It is not important to me to debunk "irrationality" in Jungian thought because it is irrational.  My concern is that Jungian psychology remains psychological as opposed to slipping into a kind of religious belief.  I am somewhat offended by or ashamed of Jungian testimonies of belief in the parapsychological that are not supported by adequate evidence or argument, as such testimonies suggest (to any more-rigorous thinker) that all Jungian thinking is mushy and idiotic.  I also find the satisfaction with unexamined anecdotes of parapsychological phenomena common among Jungians embarrassing and regrettable.  Most people believe at least some ridiculous and unevidenced things, but they need not be items of pride or made into central tenets of what claims to be a psychological (and therefore scientific) theory.

Of the many Jungians anecdotes I've heard supporting parapsychological dream phenomena, many are unconvincing and could very easily be coincidence (rather than synchronicity). Some (assuming their portrayals were not exaggerated or based on misremembering) are curiosities that may have no rational explanation.  But as data, these examples are outliers and do not deserve to be made the basis of a specific theory.  And again, as a more skeptical but still deeply involved investigator of dreams and the "deep psyche", I have never observed even one such "outlier" . . . not even before I was as skeptical and naturalistic as I am now.  From what I have seen, those individuals already embedded in a parapsychological belief system or believer's predisposition are more likely to "experience" "parapsychological" phenomena.  But in these cases, I would be more inclined to consider these phenomena psychological rather than parapsychological.

I am really not that interested in the ability of dreams to tell the future, but I am concerned with a Jungian psychology that gets wrapped up with such possibilities before exhausting the more mundane and readily observable qualities of human cognition.  I am also concerned with a mentality that needs dreams to defy the laws of material nature in order to be adequately valued.  To me, that mentality suggests a misunderstanding of the value of dreams.  Parapsychological obsessions are a hindrance when they obstruct and distort the more common and logical investigations and understandings of dreams and the psyche.

A skeptical, naturalistic, and fair investigation of the autonomous psyche will inevitably lead to innumerable fascinating observations and moments of wonder and awe.  As with most Jungians, my experience is replete with such observations and moments.  But the psyche does not have to be magical to be astounding.

Some legitimate, and legitimately astounding, things we can observe of the autonomous psyche are that it demonstrates features of complexity like self-organization, massive interconnection, and emergence, that it can be perceived as highly intelligent or insightful (yet, has a "mind" that is also unlike our conscious sense of mind), and that it is and acts as an Other to the ego.  In my observations and analyses, these things alone can account for what other Jungians consider or elaborate into parapsychological phenomena.

Regrettably, the parapsychological, the spiritual, and the mystical happen to be issues of great preciousness to most Jungians, and I would anticipate that very few Jungians could even entertain logical or skeptical thought about these phenomena in dreams.  Jung himself was one of the worst offenders and set a problematic precedent.  Many Jungians could not even imagine a Jungian psychology that did not find the parapsychological both deeply fascinating and distinctly valuable.

My objection to such interest is not simplistic or driven merely by a contrary worldview (although the Jungians I've met and read typically believe that anyone who expresses skepticism or speaks of science or rationalism valuatively must be some kind of scientistic ideologue with a dried up soul and a hopelessly narrow mind).  I do not approach the Jungian penchant for parapsychology with skepticism and criticism because I am true believer in scientism.  What I am, more accurately, is "psychologistic" (if everyone must wear his or her ism).  That is, I look as the phenomena of human perception, emotion, and cognition as psychological without any supposition that human thought or feeling must indicate an objective viewpoint.  I'm just not that fascinated by the paranormal, the spiritual, and the mystical.  Those things don't have objective and tangible meaning in my life.  I know of these things only subjectively.  Therefore, all I know is that my mind is capable of imagining and valuating them.  In other words, that metaphorically they are significant and valuable, but the significance and value are subjective matters, which I am inclined to approach psychologically, as phenomena in themselves that need not be indicative of any underlying truth or materiality.

The reason that spiritualism and parapsychologism in Jungian thought and culture are dangerous and worth analyzing is that they demonstrate that, for many Jungians, the psychological is not enough.  This is akin to rocks and minerals not being enough to satisfy a geologist or space and interstellar phenomena not being enough to satisfy an astronomer or marine life not being enough to satisfy a marine biologist.  It is inherently problematic, and it suggests that the real interest of many Jungian psychologists is not so much the psyche, but evidence that there is something parapsychological or supernatural behind psychic phenomena.  This means that, in some ways, psychological phenomena are being devalued and potentially misunderstood.  And where psychology is being devalued by Jungian psychologists, it is no wonder that the field has not evolved but rather continues to disintegrate as a psychology and deviate increasingly from influential interactions with other fields of psychology.

My position is that the goal of Jungian psychology should not be the determination that there is something spiritual or metaphysical behind the psyche.  This threatens to undermine the most important and useful tool of the psychologist, which is psychologization.  By psychologization, I mean the capacity to look at psychic phenomena relatively non-reductively, enabling them to be complex and to be treated as valuable in themselves.  What seems to evade the minds of so many Jungians, especially as they complain of Freud and psychoanalytic reductionism or materialistic/scientific reductionism, is that spiritualism is also a form of excessive reductionism.  And the thing that spiritualism is most likely to excessively reduce is the psyche.  Psyche is reduced into something that stands for or acts as a veil covering the spiritual world.

To a naturalist or typical scientist, of course this appears ridiculous, but even within some of the realms of thought that Jungians are (or at least should be) especially knowledgeable about, there is a great effort made NOT to reduce psyche to spirit.  I am speaking here of alchemy.  Medieval European alchemy (re)emerged at a time when spirituality was as accepted as materiality is today, and alchemy does not make an overt attempt to contradict or criticize the spiritualistic Christian worldview.  That would have been blasphemous . . . and alchemists often had plenty of trouble with both (Church-driven) law and tarred reputations already.

But more importantly, there is no indication in alchemical texts that either God or the Church was viewed as negative or incorrect.  What alchemical Hermetic philosophy addressed was the separation of spirit and matter that characterized the accepted worldview of their era.  In more modern terms, alchemy (or alchemical philosophy) addressed a cultural complex that had so overemphasized spirit that matter had become devalued or submerged in shadow.  The effect of this was enmity between the "rational mind" and the demonic body that led to a great deal of atrocious, psychotic, and even psychopathic behavior and ideation.

It is often underemphasized in Jungian writing that by "spirit", medieval thinkers and alchemists did not mean what "spirit" means today . . . where it has very supernatural and metaphysical connotations that cannot accord with the predominate scientific worldview of naturalism that is largely accepted throughout the modernized, "first" world today.  For the medieval alchemist, Spirit (which I will use the capital-S for from now on) included not only aspects of this supernatural or divine spirit, but also included, and was even epitomized by, what we would now call consciousness or the ego.  To simplify greatly, the idea then was that the extraordinary capacity of humans to think rationally and intentionally was due to the little bit of God or Holy Spirit that was granted them by the Creator.

Jung's identification of alchemy as a philosophical precursor to his psychology was enormously astute . . . and this astuteness is all the more remarkable when we come to realize that some of his psychological interpretations of alchemy were seriously flawed.  That is not the topic of this essay, though, so I must leave that statement alone for the moment.  I agree with Jung that medieval alchemy and modern psychology (especially that relating to the phenomenon of individuation) have a great deal in common . . . even as I find it regrettable that the Jungian habitual use of alchemy only multiplies the foggy esotericism that plagues Jungian credibility.

Again, simplifying severely, the psychological program of medieval alchemy (in one of its metaphorical expressions), involved a complex alchemical work with three aspects of the human personality: Spirit, Body, and Soul.  Alchemy begins with the assumption that Spirit is most known or given, and that it is masculine.  After all, the patriarchal Christian characterization of the rational, divine Spirit (as creative consciousness) was that it was specifically masculine.  Alchemy seems to have recognized that this assumption itself was problematic, and that there was a kind of disease of the masculine, patriarchal Spirit.  Essentially, it was too "dry" . . . and perhaps also too volatile or airy, lacking the kind of fixed usefulness, morality, and pragmatism that was necessary to make it both grounded and adequately sympathetic.

In the alchemical equation Jung and other Jungians have made so much of (which was the subject of a text by the Paracelsian alchemist Gerhard Dorn Jung was most enamored with) the first alchemical process is the differentiation of Spirit from Matter or Body that enabled the union of Spirit and Soul.  Soul was a kind of go-between with one foot in the universe of Body and the other in the universe of Spirit.  It was substantially compatible with Spirit, but Soul's sympathies lay with Body.  Soul, for the alchemists, meant very much the same thing as anima (as personification of the unconscious) meant for Jung.  Soul was feminized psyche . . . an Other to egoic Spirit, but not something as strange, problematic, and foreign as Body.  Still, in order for Spirit to unite with Soul, Spirit had to make some radical transformations and sacrifices.  It had to develop both sympathy and love for something utterly sympathetic to Body.  Soul thus acts as a kind of transitional object that allows Spirit to realign its thoughts and feelings, or what I would call its valuation.

After this was complete, the next step of the process involved the union of the Spirt-Soul with Body.  The thrust of this process, psychologically speaking, is that the somewhat inflated and Spirit-identified ego submits to a process of reorganizing its attitudes toward both Soul (what I would call autonomous psyche, which operates by the complex, dynamic principles of Nature) and the Body (or what we could call "instinct" or the animalistic/mechanistic principle of organization of the psyche that is characterized by a sense of autonomous life force or libido . . . which is not so much a simple drive as a complex principle of order).

This attitude adjustment is an increase of valuation for what has been most devalued.  Namely, Body or Matter . . . which was thought to be the stuff of the Devil used to tempt, undermine, and defile the otherwise lofty and holy rational human mind/Spirit.  I would describe the alchemical program as primarily directed at the valuation of Matter . . . which, in the human animal, was associated with instinct and all the autonomous thoughts, feelings, and actions it was blamed for.

The alchemical program came very close to asserting that true or "divine/essential/Philosophical" Spirit was actually a property of Matter/Body, and that "ego" had usurped it by becoming inflated and overvaluing its own specialness and worth, its own power and divine entitlement.  Ego had come to think of itself as the pinnacle of God's work.  And alchemy was divesting it of this usurped inflation at the expense of Nature/Matter/Body.  Through the lure of the Soul, the ego-Spirit was devalued or dissolved, its sense of supremacy and inflation was washed away, and it was purified of its poisonous (inflating) ideology.  Once purified, it could be re-infused into an also re-valuated Nature/Matter, which had previously been envisioned as simplistic, corrupted, empty, and vulgar.  This re-infusion of purified (which I would suggest means relieved of its association with human rationality and consciousness or having had its claim by human ego revoked) Spirit into Matter was imagined as a kind of worshipfulness, a sacred-making devotional valuation (that was sometimes, as in the Rosarium Philosophorum, symbolized as the coronation of Mary).

What Jungians have typically failed to take note of in this psychological program of medieval alchemy is that it is not concerned with spiritualizing psyche.  Absolutely the opposite is invoked.  Awareness of and desire for the psyche acts, in the alchemical (and I suggest, also in the individuation) process as a kind of "despiritualization" of the ego.  That is, alchemy insists that we sacrifice our tendency to imagine spirit and the spiritual in egoic terms, that we not make it and God over into our (egoic) image or even imagine it as "mind" in that familiar way we do.  Instead, through union with and love for the psyche (which personifies the autonomous mind and operates by natural laws of organization, the characterization of Spirit is to be accredited to Matter, Body, Earth, Nature.  In other words, Matter is what is truly complex, what is truly responsible for laws of organization and dynamism, what is capable of union, growth, transformation, form, etc.  Even what we think of as intelligence or mind emerges from the organizational principles of Matter.

No divine mentality or anthropomorphized touch is required to instill the human mind with spirit . . . and to imagine it as such is to effectively steal what is a property of Matter and claim it, inflatedly and erroneously, as an act of a mind, i.e., as an act of human-like thought.

This is of course not so blatantly spelled out in alchemy.  But this is what the symbolism of alchemy expresses (in more-modern, psychological translation).  The desperate reaching after spiritualistic reductionism in Jung and in Jungian thought, despite laying claim to (a very spiritualized and mystified) alchemy, fails to understand or abide by the core alchemical directive.  And the Jungian mistakes made with alchemy are the parallels of the mistakes made with psychology in general.

The Jungian program still calls for the "conquering of the anima" and the "assimilation of the unconscious" (Two Essays on Analytical Psychology) . . . the usurpation or colonization of the autonomous psyche as Other.  Thus colonized, the psyche is stripped of its naturalism and close connection to nature and matter, and made over into something spiritual, divine, transcendent.  Jungians imagine this colonization of the psyche is a form or worship and sanctification, because this colonization is accompanied by the "generous" act of bestowing great value on the psyche.

But what Jungians have failed again and again to realize is that they have not actually valuated the psyche (adequately).  They have had to spiritualize the psyche in order to be able to assign it value.  And it is like assigning a kind of archaic and quaint nobility to the conquered "savage" in order be able to recognize some of the “savage’s” worth and capability.  There is, in fact, some of that particular kind of colonial romanticism imbedded in Jungian neoprimitivism.

The problem with spiritualism is that it is always prone to imagine the spiritual more in terms of egoic consciousness and human identity and subjectivity, and it is not willing or able to view spirit as truly Other, truly autonomous.  The anthropic hubris of such spiritualism is never recognized by spiritualists as potentially negative or disrespectful or devaluing to "spirit".  It is fundamentally assumed, allowing all praise of and faith in "spirit" to proceed in their self-gratifying ways while protected by the totemic cloak of righteousness.  After all, the spiritualist is not directly worshiping his or her own ego.  That would be taboo.  Instead, egoism is made into a God and pasted over the more subtle movements of nature and the material, which provide the sense of Otherness.  But our spiritualism does not really seek to discover the Other and valuate it.  That would require violating the taboo of recognizing our self-deification, which stands between the subjective human mind and the autonomous psyche.

I ultimately find the psychological attitude to be more respectful and valuating of the Otherness one encounters during confrontations with and investigations of the deep psyche.  The psychological attitude is, essentially, "more spiritual" in the sense that it manages to attain a more self-sacrificing, less inflated devotional stance toward the Other.  The psychological attitude, as I have described it here, is the next step beyond the spiritualistic attitude in the very same spiritual journey . . . which is one of the reasons it is not easy to come by, and one of the reasons Jungians have in certain senses regressed since Jung, who stood on the threshold of imagining and embodying the psychological attitude.

Wolfgang Giegerich has had similar criticisms for Jung . . . suggesting that Jung was not psychological enough.  I'm not sure Giegerich's intuitive insight is effectively elaborated or made sense of by his theories, though, especially since Giegerich is staunchly opposed to the connection of psyche with matter.  Giegerich's philosophy of soul may just be another form of anthropic egoism and subjectifcation of the psyche, despite his remarkable aptitude for dowsing out complexes in the Jungian tribe and identity.

As the conclusion of this essay on dreams and parapsychology in Jungian thought, our excavation leaves us with an even larger problem than we ever could have imagined.  It is not only that Jungians tend to devalue the complexity and worth of matter and the natural by insisting on a spiritualistic worldview instead of a psychological one.  What's worse is that even vaunted and cherished Jungian spiritualism ends up failing in the spiritual quest it necessitates.  In other words, Jungian spiritualism is problematic to analytical psychology, both because it is spiritualistic where psychologistic thinking is needed and because its formulation of spirituality is stunted and perhaps broken.

Imagined in this way, it makes the prospect of Jungianism ever becoming a true psychology look exceptionally bleak.


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